Maryland matters

Maryland Statehouse passes new hate crimes commission bill after CAIR controversy

The bill, which still has to pass the Senate, was praised by Jewish leaders — with some caveats

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Zainab Chaudry speaks during a press conference at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., on February 16, 2015.

The Maryland House of Delegates on Monday passed a bill restructuring the state’s hate crimes commission following months of controversy regarding a member of the body who has posted incendiary and antisemitic content on social media since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. 

But the version of the bill that passed diverged sharply from the original legislation introduced by Jewish lawmakers.

Current Maryland law explicitly names the organizations that will be represented on the commission, which evaluates and shapes the state’s hate crimes policy. Among the groups named in the existing legislation is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group whose leaders have a history of antisemitic remarks — especially after Oct. 7. 

The original version of the bill, when introduced in January, sought to remove the group’s representation after CAIR Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry, who sits on the commission, came under fire for pro-Hamas posts last fall. Instead, the bill was heavily amended in a way that changed the entire legislative framework behind the commission. 

The bill that unanimously passed the Statehouse on Monday will give Maryland’s attorney general broad discretion to appoint the members of the commission, whereas most of the current members of the commission — which was formed last summer — were expressly named in state law. The new bill does not mention CAIR or any of the groups that were named to the commission, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, instead allowing the attorney general to select representatives from members of classes protected in the state hate crimes law. 

“It would have been a stronger statement if we just removed CAIR, but I understand why that wasn’t done,” Del. Dalya Attar, the Democrat who introduced the legislation, said, noting that similar bodies in the state are generally more flexible in how they appoint members. 

Attar said the bill’s sponsors received confirmation from Attorney General Anthony Brown, a Democrat, that CAIR would not be on the commission. Brown had initially suspended Chaudry after her controversial posts were revealed last fall, but he reinstated her to the commission because current law didn’t give him the power to remove members. Maryland’s House of Delegates also recently passed a bill that would give Brown that power.

“He had confirmed that he was not going to select anyone from CAIR,” Attar told Jewish Insider. “He agreed with us that CAIR should not be on it. He just didn’t think he had the authority to remove them. So now he has the authority to not select them.”

A spokesperson for Brown declined to comment on the legislation or Brown’s conversations with lawmakers. “The attorney general has consistently taken the position that all voices within the community should be represented on the commission, particularly the voices of those communities most vulnerable to hate crimes and hate bias incidents,” said Jen Donelan, a spokesperson for Brown.

Jewish community advocates who sit on the commission lauded the House passage of the bill, even in its amended form, as a win. However, they noted that they were not sure who had spearheaded the push to amend the bill.

“We support the amended bill. It gives the attorney general flexibility to appoint people from organizations who he feels can best serve Maryland’s diverse community,” said Deborah Miller, director of Maryland government relations at the Washington JCRC and a commission member. “We have full confidence that he’s going to select a group that is mainstream, that is tolerant, that is inclusive and that does not undermine the work of the commission, as that was the problem with CAIR.” 

Meredith Weisel, regional director of the ADL’s Washington office, said the ADL is “a little disappointed that certain organizations are not named anymore.”

“We still feel strongly that CAIR does not belong on this commission. It’s crucial that we do have representatives on the commission who are willing to be collaborative, who want to show leadership in fighting all forms of hate, and I think by making it more generalized, it puts it back to the attorney general,” Weisel said. “It’s going to allow more voices to be heard in the fight against hate.”

The measure also earned the support of Chaudry, who lauded the new bill for not clearly listing the Jewish groups that will serve on the commission.

“This bad faith bill was originally an attack by pro-Israel groups, not just on CAIR, but also on all those who advocate for basic Palestinian human rights,” Chaudry said in a statement. “The amended version that passed in the House today also strikes them from the commission, which is not the outcome that they were hoping for.” Other groups named in the original bill included the NAACP, a statewide LGBTQ pride organization and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The bill still has to pass the Maryland Senate before this year’s legislative session ends on April 8. 

“I am glad that it’s moving forward, and he’s going to go ahead and select 15 individuals,” Attar said of the attorney general. “God-willing none of them are from CAIR.”

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